Good Will Hunting (1997)
Good Will Hunting (1997)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 6 min.

Release Date: December 5th, 1997 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Gus Van Sant Actors: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard, Minnie Driver, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Cole Hauser




aleidoscopic opening titles transition into what could be a thriller, thanks to Danny Elfman’s score, which shifts back and forth between romantic melodies and ominous tunes. But “Good Will Hunting” is much more interested in character development and drama than psychological chills. Indeed, the film’s intentions revolve around uncovering the fascinating complexities and unassuming minds of extraordinarily ordinary people – something that proves to be quite engrossing.

Decorated mathematician and MIT professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) posts an advanced mathematical problem on the chalkboard outside his room. Unnoticed janitor Will Hunting (Matt Damon) happens upon the complex query, suddenly bemused by the theorem and the potential answer. The following day, he writes the solution on the wall. Lambeau assumes it was one of his top students who discovered the answer, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Will’s intelligence is something of a mystery, especially considering his circle of friends, which include such Bostan ruffians as Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck), and Billy (Cole Hauser), who bide their time by cursing continuously and picking fights with random acquaintances.

When Will winds up in jail, unable to get the charges dismissed thanks to his lengthy rap sheet (which includes numerous instances of assault, grand theft auto, impersonating an officer, resisting arrest, and more), Lambeau comes to his rescue, arranging for the wayward youth to be released into his care (or, rather, his guidance) – under the condition that they work together on math formulas every week, and that Will attends weekly therapy. Hunting is a genius when it comes to math, reading, his encyclopedic memorization of all sorts of trivia, and even deciphering people’s inner thoughts and secrets; but he’s focused predominantly on having a good time, roughhousing, being rebellious, and chasing women in clubs and bars – such as Harvard girl Skylar (Minnie Driver). What he desperately needs is a sense of purpose and a path to follow.

More than 30 minutes elapse before psychologist Sean (Robin Williams, receiving top billing) is introduced – a troubled man whose profession is to sort out the mental troubles of others. In the vein of “Ordinary People,” Sean becomes a lifeline, an avenue for Will to escape the confines of the lowly, meaningless existence he’s created for himself. For Sean, figuring out how to speak at the same level as the manipulative, combative youngster – to break through his shell – will be the tricky part. No one denies Hunting’s book smarts; but his lack of worldly experiences and his emotional defensiveness keep his possibilities for greatness permanently at bay.

A quiet, realistic, touching film, “Good Will Hunting” boasts a superbly written script (by stars Damon and Affleck, no less, both under 30 years old, who would go on to win an Academy Award for their efforts), which is alternately insightful, romantic, funny, and heartbreaking. Yet the pacing is a little off, speeding through Will’s relationship with Skylar but dwelling too long on details concerning supporting roles. The most important elements still have resonance, but there’s enough repetition to dilute them. Plus, Will’s character is a frustrating one to relate to, with his insistence on squandering his potential and alienating his friends with his insular views. And Chuckie’s daydreamy vision of Will’s unheralded success can be seen a mile away. But the acting is outstanding; Williams and Damon perfectly embody their roles, creating a believable, poignant, powerful partnership full of uplifting, feel-good triumphs – as well as some tear-jerking revelations. In the end, the picture resorts to a few Hollywoodized sensibilities, uncourageously creating unlikely closure – though it’s easy enough to be charmed by the satisfying tropes.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10